Chachapoyas Region

The Chachapoyas Region contains so many archaeological riches that you need at least a week to begin to appreciate the remarkable legacy of the Chachapoyans, also known as 'The Cloud People'. Great pre-Inca cities, immense fortresses such as Kuélap and ancient effigies that gaze over a dramatic landscape reward the visitor to a region that is due to become a major tourist destination as soon as regular air service begins. There are many cities and burial sites scattered around the cloud-covered mountain slopes, often in inaccessible places. To reach them is an adventure in itself.

Getting there

The city of Chachapoyas is the best base for visiting this region. As there are no scheduled flights, it has to be reached overland from Chiclayo, Cajamarca or Tarapoto.
Móvil Tours
offer reasonably comfortable bus services from Lima, travelling Chiclayo-Chachapoyas by day. Bus schedules starting from Chiclayo all involve an overnight journey, missing the fine scenery along the way. An alternative is to go by bus from Chiclayo to Jaén, continuing the next day to Chachapoyas, via Bagua Grande and Pedro Ruiz, using combis. From Cajamarca, you can go first to Celendín and then on to Chachapoyas, crossing the Marañón at Balsas between descents and climbs of thousands of vertical metres. The journey is an entirely unforgettable experience in its own right, but half of it is done at night. Also beautiful is the route from Tarapoto via Moyobamba and Pedro Ruiz, especially since the highway has been paved. It is possible to do this journey in one day, leaving Tarapoto at 0800 or 0900, but the last part will be done in darkness. Break the journey in Moyobamba or Pedro Ruiz and take combis on some stretches.

Best time to visit

The dry season is preferable (normally May to September), but the seasons are less stable than in the past; in the last few years it has been sunny and dry well into December. During the rains, roads may become impassable due to landslides and access to the more remote areas may be impossible, or involve weeks of delay. Likewise, trekking in the area can be very pleasant in the dry season, but may involve wading through waist-deep mud on some routes during the rainy season. Other places are still accessible in the wet, but rubber boots are essential. Good hiking gear is always a must, as well as a sleeping bag, tent and canned goods.

Tourist information

Dirección Regional de Turismo
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Theories about the Chachapoyan Empire show that their cities, highways, terracing, irrigation, massive stonework and metalcraft were all fully developed. The culture began about AD 800 and covered an area bounded by the rivers Marañón and Huallaga, as far as Pataz in the south and Bagua in the north. Socially the Chachapoya were organized into chiefdoms, which formed war-alliances in the case of external aggression. Archaeologists claim that this region overwhelms even Machu Picchu and its neighbouring Inca sites in grandeur and mystery. By some counts, its 'lost' and uncharted cities, such as Pueblo Alto, near the village of Pueblo Nuevo (25 km from Kuélap) and Saposoa in the northeast of San Martín department, exceed three dozen. By far the majority of these cities, fortresses and villages were never discovered by the Spanish. In fact many had already returned to the jungle by the time they arrived in 1532.

This region is called La Ceja de la Selva (the eyebrow of the jungle). Its beautiful scenery includes a good deal of virgin cloudforest (although other sections are sadly deforested), as well as endless deep dry canyons traversed by hair-raisingly dangerous roads. The temperature is always in the 20°Cs during the day, but the nights are cool at around 3000 m. Many ruins are overgrown with ferns, bromeliads and orchids and easily missed.

The central geographic feature of the department, and its boundary with neighbouring Cajamarca, is the great Río Marañón, one of the major tributaries of the Amazon. Running roughly parallel to the mighty Marañón, one range to the east, is the gentler valley of the Utcubamba, home to much of the area's ancient and present population. Over yet another cordillera to the east, lie the isolated subtropical valleys of the province of Rodríguez de Mendoza, the origin of whose inhabitants, has been the source of much debate .

The German ethnologist, Doctor Peter Lerche, of the
Camayoc Foundation
, is the resident expert regarding Chachapoyan cultures and trekking. He is very knowledgeable, speaks English, sometimes guides groups and may be contacted for information on anthropology and history. In an article in
National Geographic
, September 2000, "Quest for the Lost Tombs of the Peruvian Cloud People", Doctor Lerche writes about the discovery of a Chachapoya tomb named the 'White House' and gives a good general introduction to the history and archaeology of the region (he has also provided information for this section). The
Camayoc Foundation
website is also a good source of information.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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